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Foundation Degrees: An example of managing curriculum change for effective work based learning outcomes. Sarah Flynn , Senior Lecturer Work Based Learning +44 1707 281084 / Indra Jones , Assistant Director (Learning and Teaching) +44 1707 285917 /

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Foundation Degrees: An example of managing curriculum change for effective work based learning outcomes

Sarah Flynn, Senior Lecturer Work Based Learning

+44 1707 281084 /

Indra Jones, Assistant Director (Learning and Teaching)

+44 1707 285917 /

university of hertfordshire context
University of Hertfordshire: Context
  • Strong recruitment in the county, the capital and across East region
  • Hatfield Polytechnic since 1969
  • University status in 1992
  • Expanded in September 2003, £120m new campus with a £15m Sports Village
  • Over 20,000 students
  • Overseas campuses in Malaysia, China and Greece
  • Hertfordshire Higher Education Consortium with the four further education colleges in county
why did the project arise
Why did the project arise?
  • WBL high on agendas of UK Government through HEFCE and the Quality Assurance Agency
  • Expansion within the University of programmes with substantial and compulsory work based learning components


  • University Learning and Teaching Strategy 2002-2005 stated commitment to this area
  • Learning and Teaching action plan for 2002-2005: Section 17
    • “Establish guidance for the supervision, and assessment of work based learning”
  • Impetus was the rapid introduction of a portfolio of the new foundation degree qualification
what are foundation degrees
What are foundation degrees?
  • HE intermediate level vocational qualification
  • Equivalent to years 1&2 of an Honours programme
  • Flexible and vocational routes into higher education
  • Initiated by Government in a drive to address skills shortages
  • Enable employers to have access to a more educated and innovative workforce, and to compete more effectively
  • Build stronger links between learning and working
  • Since their introduction in 2002 at University of Hertfordshire, 21 programmes have been running with five delivery partners and another 10 programmes due to start in September 2007
what are foundation degrees5
What are foundation degrees?
  • Accessibility
    • Usually delivered in partnership
  • Articulation & Progression
    • Must offer progression to honours
  • Flexibility
    • Mode / method of study
  • Employer Involvement
    • Design, development and regular review
    • Must integrate work & study
    • Compulsory work based learning
what was the change strategy
What was the change strategy?
  • Foundation degrees delivered in partnership
  • Academic quality rests with the University


  • Initial plans were for the partners to engage with the University to learn from our good practice and historic reputation for vocational education…


  • Bringing people together made it clear that there was much to be shared, and learned from each other
what was the change process
What was the change process?
  • Adopted roles as change agents, a change management process from the start
  • Appreciative enquiry process important, to recognise current practice across the disciplines
  • Opportunity to share good practice and to innovate in curriculum areas new to WBL or reluctant to use WBL
  • Inter faculty groups working on SEEC guidelines as an audit instrument to examine current practices and hurdles
  • Programme level analysis, faculty level comparison
the audit instrument
The audit instrument
  • Are we giving credit to WBL or work?
  • How to we address the diverse range of knowledge and skills possessed by learners at the start of WBL?
  • Do we / how do we locate the outcomes of WBL in a framework of levels and standards?
  • Do we promote and negotiate the programme of WBL?
  • What support do we provide for stakeholders?
  • How do we encourage critical reflection on/of/through WBL?
  • How do we document the learning so that it can be assessed against the framework of levels and standards?
  • How do we monitor and review effectiveness of supporting policies and practice?

(Adapted from SEEC 2003 Notes for Guidance on Work Related Learning)

the challenge bridging the practice theory gap
The challenge?Bridging the practice / theory gap
  • Foundation degrees raise this issue to the forefront
  • How do we embed the theoretical domains of HE curriculum practice in the well established WBL of our partners?
  • How do we embed practice into the theoretical domains of well established curriculum practices in HE?

Mismatch between taught content and practical application

  • Lack of attention in interweaving?
  • Tacit knowledge and practical wisdom rather than theory?
  • Theories in use / espoused theories guide practice?
managing the change process
Managing the change process
  • Appreciative enquiry was a democratic approach allowing colleagues not just to engage but to lead and steer
  • Engagement was high – a participative approach is important when working with autonomous academic colleagues for true acceptance and momentum
  • Group made the recommendations and deduced that the original aim was unrealistic.
  • Renewed commitment to quality, increased communication and respect between FE and HE
  • Resistance was lower than anticipated, and has been further reduced by the collective decision making of the group rather than imposed decisions from the change agents
reflections and conclusions
Reflections and conclusions
  • A WBL best practice guide in production
    • Based on SEEC precepts and the QAA Code of Practice for Placement and WBL (soon to be released following revision)
    • Includes local good practice and national examples
    • “How to”
    • Signposts
  • An area of gathering interest at the University, a combined agenda to look at the curriculum aspects of:
    • Employability
    • WBL
    • Entrepreneurship